Rebuild, or Rezone?


Two years after Hurricane Sandy destroyed hundreds of homes and damaged hundreds more, residents still haven’t recovered.

Residents and state and city officials continue to debate whether some neighborhoods should never be rebuilt, but should instead become buffers against the next storm.

Homes that were built on top of freshwater and tidal wetlands were submerged in the storm surge, making homes unlivable for many residents for months.

District Manager Charlene Wagner of Community Board 3, along with the board’s land use committee board contend neighborhoods such as New Dorp Beach and Midland Beach should return to its natural state. She explained that the houses were built in the early 1900’s, when the building permits and codes were far more lax than they are today.

“These houses would not be built today because of our zoning and building permits. The best case scenario would be to not rebuild again. If the state buys out land, it returns to its natural state,” she said. The land will be wetlands again, which would connect into  the Bluebelt Park of Staten Island.

Most residents in the New Dorp and Midland Beach areas have already moved out, abandoning the homes Sandy destroyed.

“They bring down the property value of the standing homes around it,” said Michelle Persico, a Staten Island resident who was asked about the issue . “And what if it happens again, then the people who are living there will have to experience the heart ache again.”

However, the land use committee held a meeting to introduce the Build It Back Program, a city-funded effort to help Sandy victims. Patrick Ryan, director of external affairs from Mayor Bill De Blasio’s  office of Housing Recovery explained that the plan utilizes billions of dollars allocated through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. If homeowners decide to use the plan, they have the option to repair their home, elevate their home, rebuild entirely, or receive reimbursements if they decided to rebuild on their own.

The plan, also known as BIB, follows its guidelines that are special for the program only. A private contractor, for example, would have to follow the normal building codes. The program utilizes an emergency executive order issued by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg that suspends height and other restrictions so that homes can meet new flood elevation standards.

An architectural firm in Queens, The Bluestone Organization, has already been chosen as the rebuild developer for the project. It has streamlined the process with pre-approved designs, budgets and contractors and guarantees performance.

Based upon the lot size and width, homeowners will be able to choose from  some 10 prototypes. Each home will include flood resilient construction, all homes will be elevated above required base flood elevations, buildings will have mold-resistant materials, wind  resistant features and storm shutters, and all homes will meet energy efficiency requirements.

After seeing the blueprints, Daniella Reynoso, another resident of Staten Island, said she thought the homes would be attractive.

“The homes look like they are well thought out and carefully planned,” she said. “They come with all these positive features, and are following new codes about the elevation. I don’t know why everyone isn’t climbing on board.”

However, the possibility that the contractors were self-certified or the inspection process for the electrical, plumbing and construction worried the board as well.  No outside inspection will take place, which concerns members of the board.

The board rejected the plan because it did not follow building codes.

The BIB program brought up the idea of a “cluster file.” The cluster application filings will ease noticing requirements and group public hearings to make the situation as unproblematic as possible. The program also modifies procedures such as shorten individual and simplified application procedures.

Still, obtaining the Department of Environmental Conservation Wetland permits in a timely manner would be an issue for the BIB program as well, and cannot be a fast-tracked process.

“It sets a precedent for years to come,” explained Wagner. “Two years from now a contractor can say ‘Well, you let the people of Sandy do it,’ and contractors should build according to code.”


But first, let me Instagram my business

Instagram is being used to show off peoples work and interact with customers in more ways then ever before

Instagram is being used to show off peoples work and interact with customers in more ways then ever before



Long gone are the days of an actual photo book with pictures you developed at a pharmacy. These days, if you want to show a friend your photos from your latest vacation, or record your child taking his first steps, you whip out your smart phone and open Instagram, an app that allows users to share photos or videos with followers.
Instagram isn’t just for selfies anymore. Businesses are using it to promote their ventures by connecting with their customers on a personal level. Two young Staten Island entrepreneurs exemplify the trend- using photos to build a loyal and local cliental that continues to grow every day.
Bianca Cipriano, 21, is a hair stylist at Melrose Place Hair Salon in Great Kills. Her Instagram account, “hairbybianca” currently has 1,548 followers. Cipriano started working in the salon in November, and created the page to show off her work which includes blowouts, cuts, coloring, root touch ups- and balayage ombres, a special hair painting technique.
“My Instagram gets me all my clients,” she said.
Her clients usually find her page from other happy customers who tag her name pictures that show off their new make-over. Others stumble on her page when they visit the salon’s website. When new clients tell her they like the work she does, she knows they’ve seen the photos.

Customers are able to look through Bianca's page and admire her work and make appointments with her at Melrose Salone

Customers are able to look through Bianca’s page and admire her work and make appointments with her at Melrose Salone

“I always try to start conversations with all my clients and I ask them how they found us and they always say Instagram,” said Cipriano.
Victoria Siconolfi, 21, has been a client of Cipriano’s for months. Siconolfi’s gets frequent compliments on her hair, on the color and highlights or the style when it’s blown out. She always refers people to Cipriano’s Instagram page, so they can see for themselves the work she does.
“It’s the easiest way to explain a hairdresser’s work,” she said. “Her page is like a mobile profile for everyone.”
Lauren Barile, 28, found Cipriano through Instagram and has been going to the hairdresser since early March.
“She friended me and I started looking through her pictures and I was amazed by her work- I had to try her” she said.
The posts on her page usually include a before and after picture, so followers can see her finished work. After posting the picture, Cipriano captions it with the phone number of the salon so followers can ask for her when they make an appointment.

Customers leave positive feedback for Beningo and Resuto to share with their followers on their social media

Customers leave positive feedback for Benigno and Resuta to share with their followers on their social media

Deanna Benigno and Joseph Resuta of Annadale, created an Instagram account called “inapinchbakery,” three months ago. Followers can call, text or email the business partners and they will deliver freshly baked goods to their home. Their account has 528 followers who call in any day of the week from 7-11 pm to satisfy their sweet tooth.
“It was like a chain effect,” said Benigno. “It’s like one person would follow us and then immediately someone else would follow, but it happened all at once.”
The two work out of either of their homes, and they divide the baking and driving. It’s been hard trying to find a balance between the success of the business and the couple’s school work.
A couple of weeks ago the two had an order of 10 dozen cupcakes, four batches of 7-layer cookies and three batches of brownies. Benigno also had two labs and had to study for midterms. The event went well and they received positive feedback about their business.
Eventually, Benigno and Resuta hope to open their own store and also serve food beyond pastries.
They believe Instagram and social networking are an integral part of their everyday business operation.
“Hash tags definitely help reach people, and the best part is that Instagram is free!” said Benigno.

Fixing the traffic issues along the South Shore


Staten Island, NY— Most of the snow has melted away, revealing roads that are dotted with potholes. Now, Staten Island drivers are swerving in and out of lanes to avoid damage to their cars.

“Our men and women are doing all they can, but this has been a bad winter,” Tom Cocola, the city Department of Transportation’s Staten Island Borough Commissioner, told the traffic committee of Staten Island Community Board 3 as he outlines his agency’s plan to fill the craters at its March meeting.

The DOT plans to start reconstructions of the major roads as soon as the weather warms up, Cocola said, but said the work would be done at nights to alleviate any early morning commute problems.

Cocola advised everyone who attended the meeting to contact 311 with information on any news or worsening potholes in the area, no matter how big or small. The more potholes that are reported in, the faster they all get filled in, he said.

Community board chair manager Frank Morano asked about reimbursements for cars damaged by potholes. Cocola explained that drivers are eligible for reimbursements it they make a claim within 90 days via the city comptroller’s website. He advised including a bill if they car has been fixed, along with pictures of the car and the pothole.

District manager Charlene Wagner mentioned that the intersection of Richmond Valley Road and Page Avenue and Amboy Road has some of the worst potholes on Staten Island.

The area was also another topic of conversation. The DOT plans to widen the intersection and add a left turn lane in an effort to eliminate the frequent traffic backups there.

The new project will mirror a recently completed and successful project at a different intersection at Annadale and Amboy roads.

Narrow and bumpy roads covered the intersection before the reconstruction.

Cocola and the board were pleased with the outcome of the renovation. For months, the intersection was under construction and the roads were bumpy and narrow. The intersection is now widened and the smooth pavement makes for an easier commute around the area, said Cocola.

“The entire project has been a homerun for the board, and I want to thank you for pushig to keep it going,” said Cocola. “It is a grand slam.” The room erupted with applause.

Cocola and the board also mentioned more good news, saying the board’s plan to ensure traffic safety has been approved by the DOT.

Screenshot (7)

A new traffic light will ease traffic onto Hyland Boulevard

A traffic light has been approved at the intersection of Hylan Boulevard and Pollion Avenue, which will help drivers transition smoothly from the residential street to one of Staten Island’s main boulevards. The traffic light is scheduled to be put up by June 30.

A speed bump was also approved on Wainwright Avenue. Residents often complained about speeding cars, so the new speed bump will hopefully slow down drivers between the inner streets.

The Full Time Teacher is also a Full Time Student

Ms. Velez's third grade classroom decorations

Ms. Velez’s classroom decorations

On weekdays, Celeste Velez, 20, gets up at 5 a.m. She showers and gets dressed in a blazer and pants suit, packs her bag with her graded tests and record book and on a good day will leave her house at 6:20. If the traffic is on its best behavior, she will be waiting for her students to arrive at 7:45 a.m. Her day is filled with math, history and science and Bible study for her students, all with lesson plans she made.

“I never pictured myself at third grade, but I love it,” she said. “My students are not too young to be irresponsible, but they’re not too old to receive criticism.”

Velez was offered a last minute position as a teacher at the Bay Ridge Christian Academy on Seventh Avenue. She is an active member of the church and has a close relationship with the principal at the elementary school, Judith Vega.

Not only is Velez a full time teacher, she is a full time student at the College of Staten Island, studying early childhood education. She is only in her second semester of the program. Her classes start at precisely 4:45 p.m., so that leaves Velez an hour to change before she jets off to CSI. There is no time to sit down or relax.

“I never nap, I don’t know how to, and I do my homework at work during prep periods when my students are at recess,” she said.

Velez also volunteers as a tutor Tuesday and Friday afternoons, teaches Sunday school, takes care of her four-month-old sister Kalessi whenever she can to give her parents a break and has time to manage a happy two-year relationship with her boyfriend.

Ms. Velez incorporates Valentines day into her lesson plans

Ms. Velez incorporates Valentines day into her lesson plans

“We help each other out with our work or just relax together,” says Louis Rivera, 19. “She motivates me to do more and I’m so happy I have her in my life.”

It’s hard for Velez to ask for help when she needs it, or when she is overwhelmed. Just last week she took a moment to sit and cry, because she needed to pay for her expensive textbooks and new reading glasses, and had to remake a history test for her students because her assistant principal didn’t approve the first one.

“I knew she had the potential to make a test with a variety of test questions, so I challenged her to do it,” said Theresa Torres, the assistant principal. “I would have let anyone else use the test, but I know she can do better, and she did.”

“I have a problem being a perfectionist. I didn’t put 100% into the test, and that’s cheating my students and myself as a teacher,” Velez admitted.

Her mother Yvette Padilla, 45, looks at Velez with a proud smile.

“Her room is a mess and the dishes are never put away, but, I am proud of her, because she is doing a wonderful job for someone her age.”

Ms. Velez thinks of creative ways to display the spelling words for the week